Scott Stanford: American Skiing Co., readers deserved better

Quote selection, context and source credibility integral to keeping stories fair, balanced

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— If you are going to criticize something, you should, at a minimum, know its name.

On Page 1A of Sunday's Steamboat Pilot & Today we published a story about local residents' reaction to Friday's announcement that American Skiing Co. has put the Steamboat Ski Area on the market.

There was nothing factually inaccurate about the story. However, the story certainly was not fair to Ski Corp.

That's the purpose of my column today -- to confess our mistake and explain why we were wrong.

Have no fear -- Tom Ross is simply on assignment in Utah, and his column will return to this space next week.

In the story Sunday, we quoted a man saying, "I hate Ski Corp. or Ski America or whatever they call themselves."

We quoted another woman saying, "Ski Corp. is just really unorganized."

I have no problem with the individuals who made those comments.

They are free to say what they feel.

But I do have a problem with our decision to use such incendiary quotes and the context in which we presented them.

Here's why:

The individuals who made the statements are identified by name only.

We gave readers no perspective of their qualifications to make such statements.

The fact that one was unsure of Ski Corp.'s official name was an obvious red flag on the credibility meter.

The individuals offered no specific examples to support their statements.

We told readers that Ski Corp. is an unorganized entity that doesn't care about its employees and is worthy of hate.

Yet we didn't cite so much as one incident that would begin to justify such strong language.

We allowed such inflammatory remarks to be made without any response from Ski Corp.

Two people having breakfast at a Steamboat restaurant is not a community.

Newspapers have the power, if they are not careful in their quote selection, to make a couple of people sound like they represent hundreds.

That happened in this story.

The owner of the Steamboat Ski Area -- whether it's American Skiing Co. or someone else -- is a big target.

It's the nature of the complicated relationship between Ski Corp. and residents that there will never be a shortage of people who think new owners can do things better.

The irony, of course, is that the best place to find these people is on the mountain, skiing.

Our challenge in reporting about the business of the ski area is to go beyond such superficiality.

Finding someone to attack Ski Corp. is easy.

Determining the credibility of such criticism, citing specific examples and getting a differing viewpoint takes more work.

In the case of Sunday's story, we took the easy way out.

Ski Corp. deserved better. So did our readers.

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